A cloud of uncertainty is building around Amaya Inc.'s blockbuster takeover of the PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker franchises after the online gambling company confirmed Quebec's securities watchdog is probing trading activity related to the $4.9-billion (U.S.) deal.
Shares in Montreal-based Amaya fell 18 per cent to $28.64 on the Toronto Stock Exchange Friday, as investors weighed the potential impact of an investigation by the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF) into trading surrounding the transaction. No charges have been laid.
"With this type of company in this space, it's not entirely unexpected," said one institutional investor familiar with Amaya. "High-yield investors are aware that these things can come up from time to time. It doesn't necessarily concern them at this point."
Officials with Quebec's AMF, armed with a warrant, conducted a search of Amaya headquarters in the Montreal suburb of Pointe-Claire Wednesday. Officers with the RCMP were also present but only to provide assistance to the regulator in the form of security, a spokesman with the force said. The RCMP is not part of the probe.
"This search was part of a wider investigation on which we have no further comment," AMF spokesman Sylvain Théberge told La Presse. He did not respond to a request for more details.
Amaya released a statement late Thursday night saying it is co-operating with the regulator "in an investigation with regards to trading activities in Amaya securitites surrounding the corporation's acquisition of Oldford Group in 2014." Amaya said that, to its knowledge, the probe does not involve any allegations of wrongdoing by the company.
"The corporation will continue to monitor the investigation if and as it proceeds. The investigation has had no impact on Amaya's business operations, employees or companies."
Tiny Amaya stunned the gaming world in June with the announcement it was buying Oldford Group, parent company of Rational, the world's biggest online-poker operator. Rational's PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker franchises have a combined 85 million registered players. Online poker is a $4-billion (U.S.) global business.
The deal is notable in many ways, including the risk Amaya is assuming in loading up with $2.9-billion (U.S.) of debt for a chance to crack the lucrative U.S. market. Following a U.S. government crackdown on online poker in 2011, Isle of Man-based PokerStars had been stymied in its attempts to get back into the country but the takeover agreement could change that.
Industrial Alliance analyst Neil Linsdell said there was some market buzz over the possibility Amaya was preparing an acquisition prior to the June announcement but very few thought the target would be PokerStars, a huge morsel to swallow for Amaya.
The AMF confirmed it also obtained documents from the offices of Vancouver-based brokerage firm Canaccord Genuity Corp. and Manulife Financial, both of which are co-operating with the regulator. Canaccord co-led a group of underwriters in a subscription receipt offering whose proceeds Amaya used to help fund the acquisition.